Thursday night saw one of the greatest pieces of political theatre Australia has seen in a long while – mining billionaire, sometime climate skeptic, freshly minted MP, and cross-bench leader Clive Palmer taking the stage with former US Vice President Al Gore. He announced what we all knew he would announce – his support for the end of Australia’s carbon tax. But this was sweetened for environmentalists with support for some (relatively) minor policies and institutions (Renewable Energy Target, Clean Energy Finance Corporation), and a gimmicky backing of a new emissions trading scheme (it’s floating price will be conditional on similar policies being adopted by our major trading partners).
Twitter and the mainstream press erupted. The story became that Clive Palmer had changed his mind and that Australia is back on track for sensible climate policy. And this angle appeared wall to wall. But now that the dust has settled, the media has realised they have been played. Which makes for entertaining reading.
On Wednesday, he had the attention of the Canberra press gallery for the entire day. When word leaked out that he had hired the Great Hall for a press conference to announce his position on the carbon tax, the entire gallery was captured. No one had ever used the Great Hall for something so ordinary as a press conference.
Ministers and major-party leaders usually garner a crappy meeting room, which always seems adequate for their purposes. These hardened veterans of the fourth estate all knew they were being played — and they all knew they had absolutely no way of avoiding exactly that.
This is just a bit of a brilliant article in The Australian by former Labor Minister Graham Richardson. Richo goes on to talk about Palmer’s history as a press officer, and expound on his penchant for grabbing the media’s attention with brilliant stunts, such as his dinosaur theme park and Titanic replica.
Whatever you may think of Palmer, he is very big news. His every utterance, no matter how banal, offensive or disingenuous, gets front-page or prominent coverage.
The need for every outfit to cover Palmer’s every flourish and be the first to share his “change of heart” is a drastic flaw in an industry so vital for our governance. Everyone led with this, scared they would lose audience to their rivals, even if they didn’t have time to sufficiently process what had happened. The result? Casual media watchers will be left with the impression that those who want action on climate change have scored a victory. The media must learn to say no.